10th January 2019

Wave Breakers at Pett Levels- a recent visit back to this unusual scene on Pett Level beach, Sussex, led me to a research paper that showed the dense wooden posts are the remains of an attempt to deal with what will become an increasing problem of rising sea levels along our coasts. Behind Pett beach is low-lying pasture, reclaimed since medieval times but now well below sea-level, and breached by ingress of the sea in 1930. A dense network of ‘Wave Breakers’, wooden posts sometimes inter-woven with faggots of brush, were an attempt to reinforce and raise the shingle beach and protect the land. This approach has since been abandoned, as it was found to be incapable of holding back the rising sea. A sea wall has been built, leaving this dramatic, sculptural pattern of eroding posts on the beach.  It is clearly not

Wave breaker remains, Pett Levels

Wave Breaker remains, Pett Levels

Wave Breaker remains, Pett Levels

only me who finds it fascinating- the beach was used as part of David Bowie’s video fro his 1980 hit ‘Ashes to Ashes’!. Conditions: Still, dry spell of weather. Temperature: Max 10 Min 5C.

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3rd January 2019

Dunlin: New Year’s Day was brilliant, bright weather down south and we walked Pett Levels beach, being treated to a close view of Dunlin, a small sandpiper that overwinters on our shores. Dunlin’s winter plumage is much paler than when breeding, so here is a chance to get familiar with it: about the size of a starling, Dunlin have a dark, slightly down-curved bill, and in winter, pale grey back with white belly and a little grey on the side of the breast. ( in breeding plumage they develop stronger colours and a dark belly). They may be confused with the larger, stockier Knot at this time of year. The BTO do a great video to help you spot the differences.In flight, Dunlin have a silvery-white appearance- see the photo’s. Best seen feeding  just as the tide goes out or comes in over sand. Conditions: Bright, colder spell. Temperature: Max 5 Min -1

Dunlin, Pett Levels

Dunlin, Pett Levels

Dunlin, Pett Levels

13th December 2018

All birds need to wash to keep their feathers in good condition and Mute Swans are a dramatic and accessible (being on many lakes in local parks) way to observe just how vigorous and thorough this process needs to be. A family of five Mute Swans were washing recently (alongside some synchronised swimming Mallards, as you will see) and the photo’s show how they separate their feathers so that water gets to every part. Surprisingly little research has been done into this process but when birds are deprived of water, they have been shown to be much clumsier in flight. Regular washing is essential to condition the feathers and helps reduce damage from mites, lice and bacteria. This is why it is worth having even a little bird bath in your garden if you don’t have open water nearby. Conditions: Alternating grey and bright days. Temperature: Max 5 Min 0C.

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

Mute Swan, bathing

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

Mute Swan, bathing

Juvenile Mute Swan, bathing

8th December 2018

I love watching the Heron skulking in the reeds, or taking off on the unique, lazy, m-shaped flight which you might watch on any wetland, estuary, or on the lake in your town park, transforming from a static shadowy, hunched form, unfolding

Heron

Heron

Heron

Heron

to an elegant, airborne giant in seconds. In Greek mythology Herons were thought of as bringers of bad luck. Heron’s feed in shallow water, and the Greeks realised this meant their presence would reveal, to enemies, the shallow crossing places they could use to invade.                         Herons used to appear on upper-class menus, as this recipe from the 1400’s shows: “Take a heron…serve him…scalding and drawing and kuttyng the bone of the nekke away, and let the skyn be on…roste….his sause is to be mynced with pouder of ginger, vynegre and mustard”. Thankfully, they (and we) are now protected from this practice! Conditions: A bright morning becoming grey and very wet. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.

1st December 2018

I was delighted recently to be able to photograph Starlings in their winter plumage (bills no longer yellow, pale spots on body, feathers less iridescent) but this is a sad reflection on just how much their populations have plummeted, with 40 million birds lost from the European population since 1980. Even over winter, when our populations are boosted from central Europe, this once common bird has suffered what Michael McCarthy, in his great book “The Moth Snowstorm” terms a ‘great thinning’ suffered by so many of our species. The noisy, social Starling is, shockingly, now on the red (endangered) list and since 2012 the RSPB has been carrying out research to ascertain why. It may be due to loss of invertebrates which it feeds on (especially Crane Fly larvae, known as Leatherjackets), or nesting sites- they don’t yet know. Conditions: Grey, mild and wet weather continues. Temperature: Max 11 Min 9C.

Starling, winter plumage

Starling, winter plumage

Starling

22nd November 2018

Wigeon: here is another easy to identify duck, larger than the Teal I featured recently and, unless you live in Scotland and the North of England where they breed, more likely to be spotted over winter on wetlands and coastal areas, like these at Spurn. Our populations are boosted by  over-wintering influxes from Iceland, Scandinavia and Russia. A dabbling duck, feeding in large and often mixed groups in shallow water, on eel grass and pond plants, often eating up the weed disturbed by larger water-birds, they will also graze in groups on grassland. If you are trying to identify them, the male is the most easily distinguished, and Wigeon show a lot more white- on their bellies and the males on their wings when in flight-

Male Wigeon

Male Wigeon

Male Wigeon, landing

Female Wigeon

than when on water. Conditions: A grey day after a gorgeous sunny day at Spurn yesterday. Temperature: Max 8 Min 5C. 

20th November 2018

The Curlew calling is one of the most evocative sounds and this one’s call was echoing across the Humber Estuary yesterday, in fading light. With their long, decurved bills these, the largest of our wading birds, are unmistakable but sadly becoming rarer. Curlew are now on the red/ endangered list. They overwinter mostly on estuaries and coast’s like this eastern one, to feed deep in the mud and

Curlew, Humber Estuary

Curlew, Spurn

Curlew, Spurn

Curlew, Humber Estuary

sand, on shellfish, shrimp, worms and other invertebrates. Their name may derive from the old French ‘corliu’, ‘messenger’ (related to courier- to run). Conditions: Quite a dramatic time to be on the far eastern coast of England, with 50 mph winds and showers, hopefully bringing more of our winter migrants to land. Temperature: Max 6 Min 6C.